25 February 2009

Vegan beers

Today's Dispatch has a brief about the Vegetarian Times article on the subject of beers that are vegetarian-friendly. I have discussed this issue in the past because of my previous life in the beverage industry. The culprit identified has roots in British cask ales--a fish swim bladder gelatin used as a fining agent at the end of the brewing process. In theory, the gelatin captures the spent yeast at the bottom of the barrel, and the clear ale is poured off the top. However, it is impossible to prevent isinglass from leeching back into the finished brew.

Fortunately for vegetarians, isinglass is rarely utilized outside of the United Kingdom. It is more expensive than its non-aquatic counterparts. The article gave a short list of brewers who are vegetarian-safe. There also was an article that explained the process in greater depth. I agree with the assertion that Belgian beer is safe because they seldom fine their beers. I also agree that German beer is safe if the brewers follow the traditional standards of the Reinheitsgebot, or the German Purity Law.

Many brewers, even in England, are vegetarian-friendly. Samuel Smith uses no animal products in its brewing process. However, some of the more popular European brews have failed the test. Guinness uses isinglass as a fining agent. If you ask somebody at these organizations, it should be pretty easy to figure out if gelatin-based fining agents are used in the brewing process. I doubt they are trying to sneak it past anybody. It's just another of those odd traditions.

You can also prevent consumption of animal-laden brews by drinking Belgian beers like Orval and Chimay, German beers by Pinkus Muller and Spaten as well as American craft beers like Dogfish Head and local fave Columbus Brewing. Or you can stick to swill from Budweiser. Whether you prefer quantity or quality, all of these are vegetarian-approved.

24 February 2009

Mellow Mushroom review

Mellow Mushroom is a pizza joint that could appear to the outside observer to be more about marketing than real substance.

There is a goofy-looking Psilocybe mushroom mascot that represents the Southern chain. The decor is faux psychedelic, and all of the food possesses a goofy nomenclature. However, when you get past the bright colors and the veiled yippie marketing ploy, you actually uncover a cool pizza joint that is as fun as it is flavorful.

The Columbus location of Mellow Mushrooms is the latest offspring of a chain from Atlanta. The 'Shroom is often located near college campuses (hence the voluminous beer and pizza selection). The delivery vehicle appears to be a Volkswagon Microbus with mushrooms painted on it.

The first Mellow Mushroom I visited was located in Hilton Head. I loved the place because their menu was exceptionally geared toward vegetarians like myself. After all, how many pizza and sub shops feature tempeh as a sandwich or a pizza topping? Any place with tempeh gets a bump in my book, in much the same way that I applaud the specific labeling of vegetarian items on the menu (I hope this doesn't give away my predispositions in rating restaurants for restaurateurs to exploit in the future...or maybe I secretly hope it does).

The Columbus Mellow Mushroom is located just east of the Polaris exit of I-71 near a couple of other vegetarian-friendly establishments (Carfagna's Kitchen and Pei Wei being the most notable). The decor features murals in the style of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and Dali's "Persistence of Time" with the Mellow Mushroom hidden inside like Waldo, as well as artwork featuring the likenesses of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Jerry Garcia and Ray Charles amidst scores of others. There are flat screen televisions every few feet.

The beer selection is pretty nice. There are Bell's beers including Hopslam, Stone brews including the smoked porter, and Troeg's ales like Nugget Nectar as well as a full arsenal of Buckeye state favorites from Great Lakes and CBC. Mellow Mushroom also has a limited selection of wine and a full complement of liquor.

The main attraction is obviously the pizza. It is thin crust, cut into large slices in a vaguely New York style. The medium pizza is cut into six floppy slices. The toppings selections are more akin to a West Coast approach. Spinach, broccoli, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, avocados, tempeh and tofu are a few of the ingredients that seem at home at both Wolfgang Puck establishments and the Mellow Mushroom.

I sampled the Kosmic Karma, a pizza with spinach, sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, and basil atop mozzarella and feta cheese drizzled with pesto. The feta and tomatoes give the pizza bright, tangy character, and the garlicky pesto and basil shine through at the end. The crust is chewy and has a nice buttery flavor.

There are a number of other pre-fab veggie pizzas, and plenty of other toppings if those don't float your boat. There are also vegetarian hoagies including portobello and cheese, tofu or tempeh as the featured ingredient.

The starters were also great. The stuffed portobello mushroom was great, albeit a little expensive. A mushroom cap is smothered in garlic butter and cheese and stuffed with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and feta. It was served on a bed of leafy greens with a sharp vinaigrette accent.

The salads are good. Be forewarned that the Esperanza dressing that is on many of the salads is a Caesar-like dressing and it is made with anchovies.

Rumor has it that Mellow Mushroom may be looking to expand into other locations in Ohio. For the time being, Polaris is the only Ohio location.

Mellow Mushroom
Mellow Mushroom on Urbanspoon

17 February 2009

Athens Trip

I have spent a little time in Athens. In previous posts, I have written about general good vegetarian eateries in Athens, Ohio Brew Week (in two parts), Star of India, Purple Chopstix, Avalanche Pizza, Salaam (which is slowly but surely changing locations), Mistretta's, and half a million posts on Casa Nueva. It will be half a million and one when I'm finished here, but first I'll cover a few other favorites lurking in the Appalachian foothills.

I stopped into Donkey Coffee on Washington Street. Donkey is pretty much the cream of the Athens coffee crop. The varietal coffees offer as much quality as the espressos, cappuccinos and the other coffee beverages. The food is also from a series of local establishments and tastes delicious when washed down with hot coffee.

I never thought to go to O'Betty's Red Hot in Uptown Athens before for one simple reason...I'm a vegetarian, and O'Betty's is a hot dog joint. Then one afternoon, I saw my vegan friend coming out of O'Betty's, and I thought I had busted him. It turns out they have a vegan hot dog that can be prepared in a variety of ways. I went with the Salome (pictured above), a Chicago-style veggie dog delicious enough to make the Superdawg go vegan. It comes with nuclear green relish, yellow mustard, tomato chunks, onions, sport peppers and celery salt.

And of course, I always have to go to Casa Nueva every time I'm in Athens. Casa Nueva is a locavore's delight, with seasonal offerings that highlight the regional bounty. The infused vodkas are amazing (coffee and vanilla bean infused soy milk white Russians, anybody?). The cocktails are great. There are many local brews, including Athens' own Jackie O's and Marietta Brewing.

I started with the guacamole and chips. The guacamole won Casa's annual Guac-Off (where a local recipe becomes part of the menu after a vote), and it was made with avocados, cilantro, lime juice and local cayenne peppers. It was tasty. I also got the broccoli, cheese and fresh sage soup. Instead of being a goopy Velveeta broth with soggy broccoli strewn throughout the dish, Casa Nueva's version of broccoli cheese soup was in a vegetable base with huge chunks of broccoli, sage leaves, onions, carrots and sprinkles of organic white cheddar, served with a side of corn bread. The soup was flavorful, understated and comforting.

My entree was a winter seasonal enchilada. It was skin-on mashed potatoes with melted white cheddar cheese and a four-chili relish in a corn tortilla with onions and marinated peanut tofu in a garlic black bean salsa. Yes, it was even better than it sounds.

I also rolled past a few other veggie favorites in Athens (Big Mamma's Burritos and the Veggie Mamma Grande, the Burrito Buggy and the black bean and rice burrito with tofu, Bagel Street Deli and the steamed bagel and tofu sandwiches, Brenen's and the multitude of veggie soups and sandwiches, and the Pita Pit's falafel pita with hot sauce and tzatsiki). I have to stop in a few more times before I finish school. I'll add some more updates, and I'll definitely order an Avalanche Pizza Veggie Boulder sandwich on a return visit.

Athens Trip

14 February 2009

Royal Rasta Redemption

Royal Rasta Redemption is a little hole-in-the-wall spot that you could easily drive past in your hurry to get out of the seedy neighborhood on North Cleveland Avenue in which it is located. But by driving past, you'd miss this tremendously healthy (and vegetarian-friendly) gem.

3R (Royal Rasta Redemption) prepares all of its food ital. Ital is the rastafarian equivalent of kosher. Food is prepared without artificial colorings or flavors. About half of the menu is vegetarian.

There is limited seating in the restaurant for about 20 people. Most orders are take-out. The staff is very friendly and very Jamaican. Prices are also reasonable.

I tried two vegetarian soups. There was a mildly seasoned vegetable soup with potatoes, peas, carrots, mushrooms and tomatoes. It was bright, fresh and flavorful. The peanut stew was a heavenly concoction that was similar to oatmeal with a rich peanut undercurrent.

The vegetable tofu featured pan-seared bean curd in a spicy curry sauce atop a bed of cabbage, red peppers, green peppers and carrots. The tofu and veggies are delicious. I found the flavor to be somewhere between the Caribbean and Indian subcontinents. It was delightful. Unfortunately, the red beans and rice side dish was relatively bland and unexciting. However, the tofu more than made up for it.

3R is in a rough neighborhood. You can drive down the street and visit C.R.A.C.K.House Ministries if you don't believe me. But if you're in the area and you don't mind trying to blend in with the locals, Royal Rasta Redemption is well worth the price of admission.

Royal Rasta Redemption

13 February 2009